Friday, April 05, 2019

wild territory | adventures in collage

I've mentioned before my rather late coming to visual art.  Until around 15 years ago,  I was the sort of kid who always had big rather creative imaginations but a profound lack of coordination to make them happen--or at least for them to happen the way I wanted them to. My mind and my hands have never been much on the same page. There were many sound, but slightly off pinch pots and crooked ceramic ashtrays in my elementary school days.  In 2nd or 3rd grade, we made what I think were dream catchers out of t-shaped wooden dowels and twine. Wreaths made of hanger wires and strips of garbage bags.  Tiny uneven rugs woven in yarn on cardboard looms. Endless construction paper chains.  My favorite project was the one where you took sheets of wax paper heated with an iron and placed pressed flowers between the sheets, which then melted  and stuck together (I tried this later to make bookmarks once and it was altogether less spectacular as an adult than as a child.) 

At home, I was an avid color-booker and watercolor by number fan. I was also a fan of spirograph sets and etch-a-sketches. I would get sleepless and my mother would often discover me awake and alone in the middle of the night, sprawled on the floor in front of the living room tv surrounded by coloring books.  I could not hold a candle crayola wise to my mother, who was far neater, always inside the lines, and colored in a circular motion that left everything looking perfectly heathered. She was a hobby painter as well---and when I was younger would spend hours daily painting bisque figurines from a store called "Off the Wall" and I'd watch, so badly wanting, but forbidden to touch the paints myself. My childhood room and the houses of relatives were lined with things my mother painted (though sadly I myself, have not-a-one--all having met with some fragile demise at some point.)  Before we moved out into the boonies,  we lived across the street from a woman who sewed the most amazing Barbie clothes, and while I regularly got some of her botched ones for free, she sold the others quite healthily at local craft expos.  One summer, my mother took some of her figurines and they shared a table, but I think this may have been the only time she tried to make money at it   All I remember is being super bored and hiding from the sun under the table with my sister for what seems like days but was probably only hours. 

After grade school, where I had at least established that I was good at reading and words, I never had much chance to dabble in visual things. In junior year English, we did occasionally get to make collages instead of papers.  Tiny handmade books with crude drawings of flowers devoted to The Scarlet Letter, but that was about it. I was a word person, so I did things like write bad poems and work for the newspaper.  I was starting to get involved with theatre. .  Later the closest I would come to working visually in college would be spending hours painting scenery pieces and backdrops.  While I was terrible at my drafting for the stage class, I did pretty well in scene painting class, which was a little less dependent on precision. (my faux-bois was amazing.)

I didn't recognize or acknowledge it at the time,  but I was a little probably a bit envious of my sister. She had been set on the art path early and was far better at rendering things.  During my college years, she was in high school and bringing home all sort of cool projects, including my first encounter ever with an artists book bound in blue sparkly vinyl I  found mesmerizing.  She wound up majoring in Classics and not art when the professors were petty and horrible at RC But she still is probably more sound in her art skills than I am. (and why I trusted she'd do a good job on the Slender Man project, and she did.)

As an adult, I was firmly on the path of the written world--undergrad English major, grad school in English Lit.  I was already beginning to publish and look to putting together manuscripts and winning prizes.  In late 2003, I'd enrolled in the Poetry MFA program, but at the same time something was beginning to shift in my head.  Our director had started a series of library art shows featuring staff, which set me to plottting, with an encouraging co-worker, how I might make my writing somehow more exhibitable. The first attempt was a scroll of words written out with sharpies on rolls of parchment paper, wound round the first floor and up the stairs, where it continued around the 3rd Floor.  The second attempt were these huge muslin banners that had been dyed with coffee in my bathtub and written upon. The next was discarded  catalog cards dangling on strings with bits of poems on the back of them.   I was hooked.

By summer 2004, I was going all in on visual exploits, and it coincided with the very beginnings of the press, so I was designing the first few covers as well. I took a summer collage workshop at the Center for Book & Paper (it kills me this no longer exists, I was considering another ill-advised masters degree if they still offered it to bone up on my bookmaking skills.)  By 2008 or so, I'd also made quite a bit of money selling originals, prints, and paper goods online--far more than I will probably ever make as a writer.  I had finally found the medium that did not depend on me having to render anything perfectly at all.   In having to struggle with how I expected something to look vs. how it ended up looking.  With collage, so much is happenstance, depending on what bits and pieces you have available.

I've mentioned before, how the form actually also changed me as a writer, in my approach to composition. The poems I wrote in late 2004 and early 2005 were written very different from the poems I was writing before and were far better for it.  Writing, which I'd always approached as a very serious endeavor with an intended aim in mind, a point of success or failure,  became much more..well..FUN.  Collages (and by proxy poems)  are more this wild territory where anything can happen, I don't really know what I will get, and therefore, am always usually pretty happy with the results. Even my adventures in other mediums, the ones I most enjoy, have a certain experimental approach--abstract watercolors, nature prints, ink painting. What happens tends to happen and it's the discovery that is always the best part. (I could easily say this about most of my writing these days as well.)  Sometimes the mistakes and trip-ups are the most interesting elements. Sometimes, they lead to other possibilities or change the course of the river. 

Sometimes, I truly have no idea where I am going or what will come of it.  It's actually kind of awesome...